Indian culture has always placed a lot of emphasis on respect, especially for elders and teachers. We don’t address our teachers by their first names and may share a friendly relationship with them within a respectful dimension. And elders, we address our parents’ friends as uncle or auntie. We touch the feet of our elders like parents, grandparents and people of their age group, and we are supposed to answer them respectfully, sometimes not answer at all. Yes, answering back is also sometimes considered as disrespect.

respect earned

Now, let us fast forward to the current generation which is brought up in a more democratic environment at home. I wouldn’t say that I would like my kids to call me by my first name or backslap me, but yes, they have the freedom to question, argue and state their point. At school often, they feel at a loss because many teachers still do not encourage free discourse or exchange of thoughts and ideas. Most of us still carry the archaic notions that challenging a teacher’s stated fact or opinion is disrespect. I know of teachers whose pet gripe is that because corporal punishment is no longer officially allowed in schools, children are becoming disrespectful. After all, how do we control this noisy bunch if we can’t give them a slap or two? PT teachers consider themselves above this rule as they still freely hit children. I had a run-in with a PT teacher who enjoyed pulling the ears of kids and also hitting them on the back.  And you know what, they are much more considerate towards girls than boys. Boys are manhandled, pushed around and treated roughly because well they are boys and they are stereotyped to be rough and unruly. What kind of thinking is this? And then we say that boys resort to violence. Are we treating them with respect, showing them kindness and love?

respect earned

Unlike other parents, I take up the matter with the teacher, politely and firmly. There is no teacher who can tell to my face that they think violence is good. And even if they think so though not voice it, I will not allow them to raise a hand on my children. Perhaps, this fearless manner of speaking up and standing up for what is right has rubbed off on the kids who know when to voice their opinion especially when they are not in the wrong.

Between you and I, I think men don’t make very good teachers. I am sorry if that upsets some of you which is not my intention but their nature and temperament and especially their lack of patience makes me say so. I’ve had a number of fantastic male teachers when I was studying but it looks like their creed is on a decline. Another pain point is senior teachers. Why is it that they keep lecturing on decline of morals or act so bitterly towards the new generation? If we can’t stay with the times or realign our thinking and approach, we surely have no right to be with children.

I taught for a year at school and totally loved the experience of being surrounded by young minds. Children can be pure joy to be around. So much to learn from them and so much love one can get from them. I experienced it, as I am sure do so many teachers who take up this challenging vocation. Not that all children are fun to be around, and some can drive you up the wall, but that does not give anyone a right to abuse or hit them. I am sad to say though that many teachers are still caught up in the old notions of respect which stymies children from opening out to them or exploring their own curiosity to the maximum.

I think with time, we must learn to understand our kids and youngsters. On the surface, some of them can seem irreverent and God knows I have seen many brats too, but it would help to recalibrate our own expectations and notions from time to time.

In my opinion, respect has to be earned and cannot be demanded just by the virtue of age. Similarly knowing how to put across your point tactfully and firmly is an asset that a person of any generation should strive to have.

I would love to hear your views on respect. Do you think paradigms of respect have changed over the years?

Pics courtesy: Shutterstock.



40 Thoughts on “Respect is Earned Not Demanded

  1. This is a tricky subject because there are too many parameters and permutations at play here. First we have to look at the teacher-student relationship on the basis of behaviour and not on age. Basic respect must be given to anyone in a position of teacher. On my first teaching job at 23, I had students who were as old as or older than me. But they always respected me because I commanded respect not out of imposition but the way I interacted with them.

    I am totally against the idea of hitting, be it a boy or a girl. I know that some coaches tend to do this and it upsets me too. Like you say that is better raised directly with the teacher and confirm that beating shall not be acceptable. ‘Use your words’ should apply to all people, irrespective of age.

    We also have to teach our kids to be assertive and firm while still being respectful. Most times, this comes better with age.
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    • Very balanced views, Shailaja. Of course, basic courtesy must be extended to a teacher, basic respect as well since they play the role of a teacher. But, true respect, the one that comes out of genuine affection can only be earned. I have seen so many lacklustre teachers that it would be inhuman to expect kids to respect them. Like you said, your age did not matter, what mattered was how you interacted with your students. I am completely with you that our children have to be assertive yet polite and courteous. Bad behaviour from children cannot be condoned. And there is never any reason to be nasty. But in a similar vein, bad behaviour from teachers or other elders must not be tolerated as they ought to be respected.

  2. Such a valid point Rachna. These days just about anyone can become a teacher and yet not everyone is cut out to be one. Sometimes they are impatient or simply not sure enough of their subject and so discourage kids from asking questions. I’ve had instances of teachers being unusually nasty – specially to my son. And I don’t even want to get started on PE teachers. One of them put my son off football forever. I am glad you speak up, specially against physical punishment. Though mean words from a teacher can be just as damaging to a child.
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    • Thanks, Tulika. Sad but it is true, very few people take up teaching for the love of it. That they are grossly underpaid is a culprit too. And you are right, mean words from a teacher are quite damaging. That is where I don’t know how to approach the teacher? How can I say that you are unnecessarily rude or grumpy? The other day my younger son came home in tears because an elderly teacher had insulted him only because he asked her to clarify some instructions. Just because they have the right, should be insult in this manner?

  3. I studied in a girls school and as far as I remember, no teacher would ever resort to hitting us but then it was an all girls school so maybe it was different for boys. Having said that, nothing justifies hitting children even the most notorious ones.

    The sad thing is these days teachers are just taking up the jobs, not profession mind you, to earn some extra money. They are far from having the calibre that a teacher should have.

    We need to change with time. Respect can be there even with the changes that are taking place. I like that you always take it up with teachers because it needs to be. Many parents remain silent and that gives the teachers the right to say and do whatever they want. One of the teacher’s of my niece told her this in front of the entire class ‘Is your mother not educated? Can’t she understand a simple note?” This when my cousin had asked more details on the extracurricular activity to be done. So, these are the ones teaching the young minds these days. If you ask me, their kinds don’t really deserve any respect just because they are ‘teachers’.
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    • Yes, there are teachers with a reputation of being ‘strict’ and often that means being unduly harsh with punishments. They seem to take pride in doling out caning or verbal abuses. I fail to understand what joy they get in leasing out their ire on those weaker and younger. My grouse is that while all teachers deserve our courtesy, only the good ones deserve respect.

  4. Very apt. Wonder why such a simple thing is so difficult to comprehend. Ditto with love and attention. If you are not willing to give, you have no right to expect.

  5. The kind of teachers we had at school were much more liberal, and yet understanding. They deserved the respect we gave them because of the way they treated us kids. We were in awe of them, but they loved us and gave us the kind of attention we needed (except for a few, of course!). That’s not the case today. Teachers today take it for granted that it’s the duty of the students to keep mum, never raise questions or argue with them. What I can’t understand is, why can’t the elders change along with time and accept that today’s generation isn’t as submissive as the earlier one. Today, they point out our errors or argue over matters because of a different outlook and understanding. And, all we as elders need to do is be open to their suggestions or their arguments without making it a prestige issue.
    I am glad you speak out, Rachna. And, also encourage the boys to do so. People need to understand that to gain respect, they need to give it first.
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    • Shilpa, you articulated all that I wanted to say so beautifully. Exactly, today’s kids are not submissive to obey something which makes no sense meekly. While as parents it may irritate us, it is also good that they question things. I personally feel that my children are way smarter than I was. We as elders need to be more supportive and display empathy. Elders need to respect children as much as they expect children to respect them.

  6. I agree with you, Rachna that respect has to be earned rather than to be demanded. This I have really experienced during my job as a professor. Happy that I had earned respect and many hearts from my teaching.
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  7. It’s a fine line to tread. Most teachers do not take kindly to students who question and disagree with the, Doing it in front of the entire class is disrespecting your teacher.

    A certain distance is desirable between the teacher and her pupil. Especially when she is expected to control a class of over 40.

    Doesn’t mean she should behave harshly.
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    • I agree, Purba. And you surely have more experience being a teacher for many years. While each teacher has her ways to handle kids, it is the harshest and the cruelest that I am pointing fingers at. Those ones certainly don’t deserve any respect.

  8. I somewhat agree with you. There still are many teachers who do not allow the children to raise a question or put across their point of view. But then there are many who are helping the kids come up with their views. The point is some students are really a pain. And this I have seen personally. I don’t blame the children as much as I blame the parents for supporting them in their wrong deeds too. As a child, I was always taught to respect my Gurus. And I share the same values with my children. But they also know that they have the freedom to ask questions and raise their hands against what is not right, but politely. During PTMs I see so many parents who come and yell at teachers and raise unnecessary complaints against them with the management. And all this happens right in front of the child. I don’t think that child will ever find a reason to respect anyone including his/her teachers. I am absolutely against physical punishment. But then the parents too need to discipline their children. We can’t expect the teacher to do everything…right? I agree that there are some painful ones everywhere who need to be tackled appropriately. But in my personal experience, I have found that a constructive discussion between the parent and teacher solves most of the problems without the need to escalate things.

    “And you know what, they are much more considerate towards girls than boys. Boys are manhandled, pushed around and treated roughly because well they are boys and they are stereotyped to be rough and unruly.”

    This, I completely agree with. I see this on a daily basis. This Friday, the PT teacher literally dragged a boy (aged 4-5) through the school corridor while the parents of pedestrians were watching. I couldn’t stop myself from going up to her and requesting her to leave the little boy and I asked the boy to apologise. I am sure the reaction to this episode will be visible in the form of some punishment for my girls in another day or two. Or may be she’ll not allow them on the ground. I really don’t care. What is wrong is wrong. It can’t be right for any reason.
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    • You have raised a very valid point about parents, Rekha. I have seen that firsthand as well. When parents misbehave openly with teachers and raise trivial complaints, they undermine the authority of teachers and set a very wrong example for their children. I always speak politely to my kids’ teachers, sharing with them any issues or concerns. As for children, it is never acceptable that they behave in a nasty manner with teachers. The least we can expect is that they show courtesy to their teachers. And it is the unruly and the nasty teachers who play the respect cards when you question their behaviour. That is why I said, respect is not a given. It has to be earned. I will not expect my child to respect me if I was cruel to him at all times.

  9. Anita Desai on July 10, 2017 at 1:53 pm said:

    You have touched upon several issues here so a perfect response is somewhat tricky. Corporal punishment is a strict NO for me. If the rule “Respect is Earned not Demanded’ applies to a teacher-student relationship, then I guess Indian culture has indeed reached its nadir. Sure, students today are growing up in conflicting times and deal with a lot of chaos early in life, they have to be heard and understood, and deserve to be treated with respect; but, a teacher in school cannot be asked to earn respect from students. Here age is not the issue, it is the position of a ‘Guru’, the one with knowledge that deserves respect, (not applied in extreme cases where they abuse a child / that is a different debate) How can we forget that after parents, it is the school teachers who lay the very foundation of our academic lives.

    • Absolutely, teachers deserve courtesy and so do our elders. But, they will only be respected if they deserve that respect. Have you not come across teachers who are feared and even hated for their behaviour? Can I tell my child to respect an unruly teacher? I cannot. I have to respectfully disagree that someone deserves to be respected just because they are of a certain age or position. They will earn it only if they deserve it by their behaviour.

  10. Ah, such a valid post! I have always believed that age should be a criteria for respect. Come on!

    I respect my younger colleagues who work so well. I respect the security guy at my apartment for the work he does. I do not respect that housewife who sits at home and watches TV while someone else does all the work. Just because you are old, you need respect? Nonsense. Humanity maybe, but respect doesn’t come free.

    I respect one for their deeds, not their age or morals. The concept of respect and its paradigm should be changed.
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    • I know. Every person deserves courtesy and kindness unless they do something to not deserve that. Respect is another beast. It can only be earned. Age has got nothing to do with wisdom. It is still a difficult concept to grasp for many.

  11. Not every man who teaches is a pathetic teacher 🙂

    My father was a professor for 25 years in the same college, till he retired a few years back. He was so loved that his students still come by and meet him though they are so busy in their lives.

    On the other hand, i personally had a few female teachers who were so hated that nobody wanted to be near them.

    What i am saying is that we can’t generalize…depends on who we have encountered in our lives.

    • My comment was not specific and definitely not applicable to college teachers. In school though I have come across some nasty male teachers. I am not only talking from my experience but that of the kids’ teachers, so yes I can generalize. It’s okay if you don’t agree.

  12. I’m definitely with you on this, and I believe respect should be earned both ways. As in, children ought to be respected by the elders too if they are expected to respect everyone else. And by this I do not mean that kids too should be called with respectful names, I mean that their ideas, views and questions must be respected instead of being tossed off condescendingly. I believe any person who’d take the children seriously will earn their respect.

    I must say though that I don’t agree about the male teacher part. I’ve had both male and female teachers who were equally awesome or equally real bad too. It depends on their approach to the students and their manner of teaching.
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    • I completely get your point about respect. We need to respect our children, their thoughts and opinions. I understand that discipline is important, but it does not need to be equated with rudeness or misbehaviour by the adults. Glad that your experience of male teachers was different. I have seen quite a few rotten male teachers in my kids’ school.

  13. I absolutely agree with you! It’s more an ‘issue’ in the US, since children are highly encouraged to stand up for themselves. Though it does leave some teachers helpless in the face of insolent children, overall, I think it’s a very positive outcome for most kids, leading them to be their own advocates, gain self-confidence, and have a curious mind!
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    • Exactly, Rosh. I think kids are more self-assured and confident because they stand up for themselves and are not expected to toe a line just because an adult expected them to do so. It’s not so easily accepted by teachers here as you can well imagine. My older son has been called trying to act smart if he shares extra knowledge or maybe points out a fact to the teacher. Well, he corrects us as well. And he is not doing it for show.

  14. Favorite words from this blogpost – “cannot be demanded just by the virtue of age”. As the younger of two children, and the youngest in a family of six (when I was growing up it was tradition for grandparents, parents and children to share a household) I was often not heard, ignored, or simply not shown enough respect just because I was the youngest. I never found it fair! In my life now I care little about age in my interactions, and yes – respect must be earned!

  15. What a beautiful message and I so agree. Too many people in society seem to demand respect. It is something that grows over time and can not be earned quickly. Society has a huge role in teaching our youngers about respect so that they can learn and flourish in a world of earned mutual respect. I really enjoyed reading this post #TweensTeensBeyond

  16. Really very valuable article.

  17. Completely agree with you. That’s one thing I remember my parents instilling in me from a very young age – Respect should be commanded and not demanded.

    As far as the teacher’s attitudes go, I am frankly surprised that they still feel that corporal punishment is required or even acceptable. I thought that was in the past. Sigh.

    But in such situations, or in any situation of conflict, I believe it is a tricky balance we must teach our kids, to be firm without being rude.
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  18. Teaching, especially at schools, has become a tricky proposition. Firstly, the pedagogy needs to adapt to the changing face of education and how knowledge is being absorbed in the current age. With Google and a plethora of other sources at hand, the kids, especially the curious and academically inclined ones, are definitely in a different league than we were perhaps at their age. Unfortunately, the quality of teachers isn’t up to the mark. Also, there are kids do can ‘act smart’ and use a tone that might not befit a teacher. The open culture is yet to find its mark where there is a healthy environment for students to question and debate the concept being taught.
    Hitting the kid or showing disapproval only because the person disagreeing with your views happens to be younger than you, is certainly not a healthy trend.
    Some very points you have raised and a lot of food for thought in the article, Rachna.
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  19. It is funny but when I was young I was always taught to respect my elders, which generally meant not questioning their viewpoint or answering back as you say. But of course respect has to be earnt whether as a parent, friend or teacher. I encourage my teens to have inquiring minds but there is a big difference between discussion and debate and challenging a viewpoint disrespectfully. Learning to navigate that takes time when you are young and full of enthusiasm. An interesting post Rachna. Thanks for joining us. #TweensTeensBeyond
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  20. Oh absolutely! I so agree that teaching young minds is a privilege and that teachers have to earn respect by their words and their deeds. Sadly, some do not realise that! I have to say that in my experience it is women teachers that are guilty of this more than men but perhaps that is just Wales!

  21. Perfect!
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  22. The title of your post caught my attention immediately. Teachers definitely have to earn their respect because only then it can last. Of course, that doesn’t allow the students to be rude in any way. But then the opposite of respect is not rudeness. While your post is about teachers, I have often thought this in the context of elders too. People, who merely by dint of their age, feel entitled for respect. Even in their cases, i feel true respect can never be earned just because of grey hair.
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